I am troubled by the precipitous decline in civility amongst people in the United States who hold opposing views. This topic has been on my mind for some time. While I don’t often write about politics, I’ve stated before my thoughts on how to address this decline. This article is just my way of sharing my observations.
Before I get too far, I’ll point out that I didn’t vote for Trump or Hillary. They were both firmly untenable candidates to me, for different reasons. I voted for a third party candidate, not that it matters.
During the 2016 campaign
As I stated in the title, I am in fact a conservative Christian who did not vote for Trump. I found his antics, character, lack of statesmanship and decorum, and lack of any apparent interest in improving those shortcomings to be such an affront to my sensibilities that I was horrified at his candidacy. I was far from alone in that sentiment.
I saw many friends and acquaintances of similar beliefs share their sentiments early and often: he is unqualified and so painfully unpresidential. The fact that he was even running felt like a bad dream from which I couldn’t awaken. Friends frequently shared articles and opinions with the same concerns.
I recall wondering to myself, “What is happening? Trump has supporters – but WHO ARE THEY?? Who are these people that attend his rallies? Do such people even exist, or is this some elaborate media prank?”
It began to dawn on me what was happening. Trump figured out how to market himself to the disenfranchised; those who were angry about what was happening in this country, but felt powerless to do anything about it. People who had seen the distant breaking wave of political correctness gather momentum over the last few decades, to the point in recent years where it had picked up enough height and velocity to turn into a terrifying tsunami, destroying (or wanting to destroy) everything in its path that offered dissent.
Others who boarded the Trump train were small business owners who were looking for tax and regulation relief, with a Commander-in-Chief who could empathize with them, as a businessman himself.
While I sympathized with those viewpoints, they weren’t enough for me to overlook his shortcomings as a candidate, which is why I didn’t vote for him, nor did many people I know.
Since the election
With the election two years behind us, the bitterness and adversarial spirit that plagued this land during the campaign season only seems to grow worse, not better. As one who admittedly spends too much time on Twitter, reading the viewpoints from people all over the political and moral spectrum, I’ve noticed something troubling to me.
The substantial base of Christians who identified more with #NeverTrump seem to be a political afterthought as if we never existed. More specifically, the progressives/leftists became transfixed on citing how the majority of “evangelicals” voted for Trump.
As an aside, I put “evangelicals” in quotes because it is unclear to me their definition of the term. For that matter, I wonder how clear that term is overall based on polling data. Does anyone who watches Fox News and goes to church once in a while get defined as an “evangelical”? But that is a separate discussion.
Leftists pound the drums of this trend so relentlessly that any voice of dissent feels as though it gets lost in the noise. They use that as their rallying cry that “evangelicals” have lost all moral credibility in voting for Trump. I take every opportunity I get to remind someone of that mindset that nearly 30% of evangelicals do not fall into that camp. They don’t seem to care, because that position doesn’t fit their narrative. It is much easier to push the stereotype that all Christians are Trump supporters than to take time to engage the nuances in people’s views. There is only so much shouting into the wind one can do before a sore throat to no effect becomes too discouraging.
A vicious cycle
It is not lost on me how the cycle of incivility has played out. Conservatives and working class folks, tired of being bullied into silence over the years by an ever more demanding and forceful progressive presence in society, had gotten to their wit’s end. They were disgusted by outrageous demands and infringements on religious liberty by a zealously leftward sprinting government under the Obama administration.
Along comes Trump; a crass loudmouth that knew exactly what to say and how to win over this crowd. It was so startling that many found it refreshing. Not knowing how to respond, just knowing that the bland, mostly spineless leadership of the GOP offered no hope in its current state, they embraced Trump – a hero that could represent them in Washington. That is my assessment of the otherwise astonishing fanbase he gathered.
The left, incensed that such a scandalous character had taken office, who was not afraid to viciously attack his enemies in tweets and verbally, ratcheted up their hate for everything Trump stands for, including all those who are loyal to him or approve of anything he does.
Incidents of sheer intolerance for dissent are on the rise. Public figures are being chased out of restaurants, homes are being threatened by mobs, even children of such folks have been targeted for the audacity of having parents who push back on a leftist agenda.
It seems the left even growls with disapproval at folks who won’t share their hate, want to remain neutral, or hold the traditional position of respecting the office of the President regardless of political agreement (see: Tiger Woods incident from August 2018). That appears to be a thing of the past in today’s political climate.
I see how the tone and rhetoric that Trump brings to the fight only serves to add fuel to the fire. But I also can’t help but observe that the left’s reaction tactics; openly calling for incivility, disruption and violence towards dissenters, ironically drives more people to support Trump who would not have otherwise.
Tactics mentioned above are so distasteful to the moderate, reasonable person, that even if they are somewhere in the middle ideologically, they may be inclined to ally with the other side, even if uncomfortably so.
It seems that neither side is backing down. Both seem prepared to fight until the finish, cranking up the heat with no end in sight.
A call to civility
There are a lot of things I miss about the way things used to be. High among them is the opportunity to have a conversation about politics that doesn’t end in a shouting match or dissolve into unsubstantiated name-calling. I remember a time when it was more widely normal and safe to talk about dissenting ideas and policies without fear of being unfairly labeled various unflattering titles.
How refreshing it would be if national discourse were more about discussing and weighing ideas than pointing fingers, more about trying to get along than trying to vilify other viewpoints.
In closing, I’ll suggest a few things that would help for both sides of the political spectrum. As we discuss politics, let us:
- Know the true definition of words we are using to describe others. E.g., calling someone a “racist” is a pretty serious charge. It has lost some weight because it gets thrown around so much.
- Be prepared to back up arguments with examples. This is an area in which I could certainly improve. Just calling someone, or a whole class of people, a name without citing specifically why you think they deserve that name has no validity as an argument.
- Respect all other humans as having equal value as yourself.
- Respect the right of others to hold different viewpoints.
- Realize that we are never going to be entirely unified, but that we can still respect one another.
- Remember that our political system was set up to win battles civilly, at the polls.
This post covers a lot of ground concerning things that have been on my mind for the last few years. I embrace the sentiments behind the bullet points above and welcome respectful conversation with others who hold different views. As always, thank you for reading!